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Huntington High School

An entrance ramp onto the Southern State Parkway which shows signs warning of no commercial vehicles allowed and the overheight vehicle detector system. Photo from Gov. Cuomo's Office

By Sara-Megan Walsh

The parents of two Huntington teens seriously injured when a coach bus slammed into a Southern State Parkway overpass are suing the driver and transportation company.

Frank and Allison Sgrizzi filed the first lawsuit April 11 seeking $5 million for the traumatic injuries suffered by their 17-year-old daughter, Samantha, in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Samantha Sgrizzi was one of dozens of Huntington High School students coming home April 9 from a spring break trip to Eastern Europe on a coach bus traveling from John F. Kennedy International Airport headed to Walt Whitman Mall in Huntington via the Belt and Southern State parkways. The coach bus slammed into the Exit 18 Eagle Avenue overpass — which has a 7-foot, 7-inch clearance — sheering off the vehicle’s roof and sending debris raining down on students.

The teenager was impaled by a piece of debris and fractured her right femur in the crash, according to court documents. She was brought to a nearby hospital for immediate surgery.


Lawsuit #1
Filed by: The Sgrizzi family, of Huntington
Injured:  Samantha Sgrizzi, 17
Injuries: fractured femur, impaled
Seeking: $5 million

The lawsuit accuses the tour company; the driver, Troy Gaston of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; and the transportation company, Journey Bus Lines, of being “negligent and careless in failing to take proper and suitable precautions to avoid the crash herein, not limited to, failing to provide, obtain and/or utilize a global position system suitable and certified for use by commercial vehicles.”

Attorney John Giuffré, who is representing the Sgrizzi family, has requested the case be heard by a jury. Giuffré did not respond to requests for an interview on the case.

On April 13, Huntington father Richard Bonitz also filed a lawsuit against the driver and bus company seeking monetary compensation for the injuries suffered by his daughter in Nassau County Supreme Court.

Erin Bonitz, 17, received a traumatic brain injury, facial fractures and several lacerations as result of the bus crash, according to attorney Robert Sullivan of Garden City. Sullivan said she was treated immediately at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens and has since been released home where she is continuing her recovery.

The lawsuit accuses Gaston of ignoring clearly posted signs warning of Eagle Avenue overpass clearance height and “negligently using a noncommercial vehicle GPS device” which directed him to take a route utilizing the Belt and Southern State parkways, according to court documents. New York state law prohibits buses and commercial vehicles from traveling on these limited-access parkways.


Lawsuit #2
Filed by: The Bonitz family, of Huntington
Injured:  Erin Bonitz, 17
Injuries: head injury, facial lacerations
Seeking: trial by jury for monetary damages

They also seek to hold Journey Bus Lines responsible for the accident for its failure to equip the coach bus with a commercial GPS system. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration advised transportation companies to install these systems in 2013, as it has the capability to warn truck and bus drivers about the clearance heights of bridges along their planned route.Sullivan said that the Bonitz family will not make a specific demand for compensation.

Journey Bus Lines did not respond to requests for comment on these lawsuits. Gaston could not be reached for comment.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced last December a $4.3 million project to install overheight vehicle detectors at 13 locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties, including Southern State Parkway. These detectors are installed at the top of on-ramps and relay an invisible beam set at the specific height needed to clear the parkway’s bridges. If a vehicle breaks the beam, the device triggers a colored LED message sign to flash a warning to the driver, alerting the truck or bus will not clear the bridge.

Joe Morrissey, spokesman for the New York State Department of Transportation, confirmed these detectors have been installed at the Eagle Avenue overpass but said they are not yet active due to calibration and testing. Morrissey admitted even if the detectors had been functioning, they would not have prevented the accident. They are not set up to scan for overheight vehicles entering from the Belt Parkway, as the coach bus did.

The National Transportation Safety Board was also notified of the accident, according to police, but it did not meet its response criteria. It will be monitoring the investigation.

The crash remains under open investigation by New York State police. Anyone who may have witnessed the crash is asked to contact the state police at 631-756-3300.

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A horrific crash on the Southern State Parkway injured many Huntington High School students when a coach bus slammed into an overpass April 9. The accident could have been easily avoided, elected officials said, and we couldn’t agree more.

While we cannot control human error, this should be a wake-up call to re-examine our use of technological safety devices.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he called for improved transportation safety measures at the very same place, Exit 18 at the Eagle Avenue bridge, where an accident occurred in 2012. As a result, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration advised truck drivers and commercial vehicles that a new GPS system was available to warn of parkways and roadways along their route with low clearances.

While installing this commercial GPS system into commercial vehicles was highly recommended, Schumer admitted it was not mandated by federal law. Elected officials presumed transportation companies would voluntarily shell out money to improve safety. Decisions regarding passenger safety should not be left in the hands of private corporations. Federal, state and county politicians need to reconsider legislation that would require this vital, potentially life-saving equipment on school buses, coach buses, RVs and other tall passenger vehicles.

This accident also warrants taking a closer look at those new technologies in the process of being installed on Long Island’s parkways. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Dec. 5 of last year that $4.3 million in funds would be spent to install overheight vehicle detectors at 13 locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties. His goal was to use state-of-the-art technology to prevent bridge strikes that can be potentially fatal and snarl traffic for hours.

These detectors are installed at the top of on-ramps and relay an invisible beam set at the specific height needed to clear the parkway’s bridges. If a vehicle breaks the beam, the device triggers a colored LED message sign to flash a warning to the driver, alerting the truck or bus will not clear the bridge.

Joe Morrissey, spokesman for the New York State Department of Transportation, confirmed these detectors have been installed at the Eagle Avenue overpass, but said they are not yet active due to calibration and testing. Morrissey admitted even if the detectors had been functioning, they would not have prevented the accident. They are not set up to scan for overheight vehicles entering from the Belt Parkway, as the coach bus did.

Elected politicians and transportation officials made the assumption that because buses and commercial vehicles are not allowed on the Belt Parkway, none would enter the Southern State Parkway from that ramp.

Cuomo’s plan to install these vehicle detectors needs to be looked over again to better determine where sensors need to be placed. Additional measures, like notification to highway police when the sensor is set off, should also be considered.

These oversights are putting holes in the safety net.

Huntington High School. File Photo

A coach bus transporting dozens of Huntington area students home from a spring break trip smashed into an Southern State Parkway overpass late Sunday night, seriously injuring two 17-year-old girls.

New York State Police said at 9:08 p.m. April 8 officers responded to a one-vehicle crash involving a 2000 Prevost coach bus traveling eastbound on the Southern State Parkway that had crashed into the exit 18 Eagle Avenue overpass in the Town of Hempstead. There were 43 students and chaperones onboard returning from a trip to eastern Europe.

“We were informed shortly [after the crash] that several individuals who were injured in the accident were members of the Huntington High School community,” read a statement from Huntington Superintendent James Polansky posted on the district’s website. “While injuries apparently ranged in severity, preliminary reports indicate that all have been treated and released, or remain under treatment. Our thoughts and prayers remain with all families involved.”

State police identified the driver of the coach bus as Troy Gaston, 43, of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who was working for Journey Bus Line. Police said Gaston had used a non-commercial GPS device to determine the best route from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Walt Whitman Mall in Huntington was via the Belt and Southern State parkways.

Gaston has a valid Pennsylvania commercial vehicle driver’s license. He was cooperative at the scene, according to police, where he was evaluated by a state police drug recognition expert for any sign of alcohol or drug use. The driver voluntarily offered a blood sample which came back with no trace of alcohol use and a drug evaluation is still pending, police said.

“This was an avoidable accident,” said U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) during a press conference.

Schumer said in 2012 he held a press conference at the same overpass where the accident occurred calling for improved safety standards including the use of commercial GPS systems to warn truck and bus drivers about the clearance heights of bridges.

In 2013, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and agency with a primary mission to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries, sent notification to all truckers and transportation companies about these commercial GPS systems.

“This driver should have never been using the Southern State,” Schumer said. “And the GPS equipment was available to tell him.”

While installation of these commercial GPS systems was recommended by the federal agency, it is not mandated by law, according to Schumer. The senator said he would look into legislation to requiree the systems be used and drivers be properly trained to prevent future accidents.

The National Transportation Safety Board was also notified of the accident, according to police, but it did not meet their response criteria. It will be monitoring the ongoing investigation.

The Southern State Parkway was closed until 7 a.m. April 9 to allow state police to attempt to reconstruct the accident and determine its cause. Police said they still need to verify the route the bus traveled using forensic evidence and conducting passenger interviews.

Anyone who may have witnessed the crash is asked to contact the state police at 631-756-3300.

Huntington High School. File Photo

Suffolk County police have confirmed that a dead man was found on the grounds of Huntington High School on Monday afternoon.

Suffolk homicide detectives and crime scene vans were spotted on the periphery of the district’s property off Oakwood Road. Police have not released the identity of the adult male, but confirmed the death appears to be noncriminal at this time.

James Polansky, superintendent of Huntington school district, said no students, staff or school community members are in any way involved in the incident.

“There was never any concern regarding student or staff safety,” Polansky said.

The superintendent said upon hearing of the discovery he headed out to the join police officers at the site for several hours and confirm what facts could be ascertained. The district is fully cooperating with police investigations, Polansky said.

“It’s an unfortunate incident and equally unfortunately it happened on school grounds,” he said. 

This post will be updated as more information becomes available. Last updated 5:50 p.m. March 19. 

 

Huntington High School. File Photo

Huntington High School found itself in the crosshairs of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) latest initiative that takes aims at cracking down on Long Island gang activity, much to the surprise of school officials.

Cuomo announced Sept. 13 his plan for deployment of a new Gang Violence Prevention Unit, which will deploy state troopers to monitor gang activity and recruitment in the alleged top 10 “high-risk” Suffolk County schools. Huntington High School made the list.

The prevention unit will immediately assign 10 state troopers, one to each of the 10 schools in the six targeted districts which includes Brentwood, Central Islip, Huntington, Longwood, South Country Central and Wyandanch. Cuomo said these districts were chosen as they were identified by local law enforcement as having the highest concentration of gang violence and vulnerability to recruitment efforts.

In addition, the prevention unit will coordinate with the Suffolk County Police Department to launch an “Educate the Educators” program, aimed at helping teachers and faculty recognize early warning signs of gang involvement.

“Our number one job in government is to keep all New Yorkers, and especially our children, safe,” Cuomo said in a statement. “By partnering with our schools, we will be better prepared to stop gang activity before it starts and end this heinous cycle of violence. This is just one step in our ongoing efforts to eradicate the threat of MS-13 and ensure that every student remains on a path to a bright future.”

Huntington Superintendent James W. Polansky said he was “deeply disappointed” by the manner in which the governor presented the initiative. Polansky made clear to residents it was not a coordinated effort with the district in a letter sent to the community dated Sept. 14.

“Much of our dismay stems from the fact that at no point were we approached,” Polansky said in a statement. “At no point did any state official or otherwise reach out and ask what we need or don’t need. At no point did anyone request a visit or invite a conversation of any sort. At no point have we received even fragments of information about this proposal.”

Upon questioning state officials about Cuomo’s proposed plan, Polansky said the district received a thorough apology and admission that the “ball was dropped.”

The superintendent stated in his Sept. 14 letter that Cuomo had mischaracterized the Huntington school district and that his words, “frankly, offend all members of the school community.”

“In fact, numerous students were the first to point this out first thing in the morning,” Polansky wrote. “Unfortunately, we continue to witness education and politics rarely prove to be a productive combination.”

As of Sept. 19, a state trooper has not been assigned to Huntington High School as part of the prevention unit, according to school spokesman Jim Hoops. The district does have a school resource officer assigned from Suffolk County police since 2004 to monitor issues that arise, which is shared with the South Huntington school district.

File photo

Suffolk County Police arrested a man for allegedly committing a lewd act in public in Huntington Station May 21.

A female student at Huntington High School was walking on Oakwood Road to her parked vehicle on Holdsworth Drive May 18 at approximately 2:05 p.m. when a man in a pickup truck pulled up next to her. The female observed the male driver masturbating in the 2007 red Ford Explorer. The female stated she was going to call the police and the man drove away.

Following an investigation, Second Squad detectives arrested Eric Lombardi in front of his home, located on Arthur Place in Plainview, at approximately 8:25 p.m. on May 21. Lombardi, 44, was charged with public lewdness and was scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip May 22.

John Cronin smiles with a pair of socks from John’s Crazy Socks. Photo from Mark Cronin

By Victoria Espinoza

For one father-son duo, the secret ingredient to success is socks. John Cronin, a 21-year-old Huntington resident diagnosed with Down syndrome, was trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life after he graduated from Huntington High School, when John’s Crazy Socks was born.

The two-month-old business venture has already seen success, and Cronin and his dad Mark Cronin are continually coming up with new and unique ideas to set John’s Crazy Socks apart.

“We opened the store Dec. 9 and expected a trickle of sales,” Mark Cronin said in a phone interview. “Instead we were flooded with sales. It turns out John is a social media star.”

The co-founders shot and uploaded a variety of videos to the company’s Facebook page, starring the 21-year-old who has become the face of the business.

John and his father Mark Cronin smile. Photo from Mark Cronin

“Those first couple of videos we put up, which were spur of the moment, had 30,00 views,” the elder business partner said. “People were spreading them all around Huntington. So people flooded us and in fact on our first weekend we ran out of inventory.”

John’s Crazy Socks now ships nationally and internationally, and for local residents shipping may be the most enjoyable part of ordering from the company. Cronin hand-delivers local orders, which his dad said is an extra treat for customers.

“Word spread through social media that John would show up to a house to do a delivery, and whole families would come out to greet him and take photos,” he said.

Cronin said it’s one of his favorite parts of the business.

“I really like going to do home deliveries,” he said in a phone interview.

Aside from a friendly face with a new order of socks, patrons also receive a hand-written thank you note from Cronin as well as some Hershey kisses.

“We’ve learned a lot and saw there is a real opportunity here,” his father said. “We’re spreading happiness through socks, and it’s a way of connecting with people. The more people we can make happy the better off we will be.”

The team also gives customers two coupons with each purchase.

“We want to make it a great experience for people to buy from us,” Cronin’s father said.

John Cronin smiles with a customer during a home delivery. Photo from Mark Cronin

He said the duo has high hopes for John’s Crazy Socks, as they intend to become the world’s largest sock store, offering more sock styles and designs than anyone else. When the company started in December, they offered 31 different styles of socks. Today they offer more than 550 different styles.

It’s not just different colors and concepts customers can find at John’s Crazy Socks. They also sell socks with meaning behind them. Cronin designed an autism awareness and a Down syndrome awareness sock, as well as a breast cancer sock, and a Special Olympics sock. Cronin’s father said a portion of the proceeds from each specialized sock goes to national and local charity groups working towards finding a cure or to advocating for the groups, depending on the cause.

A blue whale sock was created for the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum, and there are many other personalized socks to come.

For Cronin, socks represent self-expression.

“I really like socks,” he said. ‘They’re fun and they can fit your own personality.”

The elder Cronin said he’s enjoyed many aspects of starting the business with his son.

“I love bringing joy to people, the little things we get to do to just wow people,” he said. “We live in this increasingly complex world, and we can connect with people and say we hear you and we can make you happy, and that’s awesome. And it’s great to be able to do something with my son.”

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Huntington High School marked its 154th annual commencement on Friday, June 26.

The Blue Devils celebrated in style, marking the occasion with a processional, speeches by a number of students and school officials, words of wisdom from Valedictorian Caitlin Knowles and Salutatorian Joe Saginaw and much cheer from excited parents. It was also longtime Principal Carmela Leonardi’s last graduation, as she celebrates retirement this year.

Superintendent Jim Polansky and newly appointed high school principal Brenden Cusack at a school board meeting on Monday night at the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School. Photo by Jim Hoops

Huntington High School has a new leader at its helm.

The school board promoted Assistant Principal Brenden Cusack on Monday evening to replace longtime Principal Carmela Leonardi, who is retiring this year. Cusack’s appointment is effective July 1.

Cusack, a Babylon resident entering his 20th year in education, has been employed at the district for three years. He was seated in the audience at the school board meeting on Monday night at the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School, and upon his appointment, members of the audience, including his family, cheered and clapped — some offering a standing ovation.

In an interview after the meeting, Cusack said he was eager to continue working on improving academics in the Huntington school district. He also wants to offer more opportunities for students to step up and would like to “try to develop and increased sense of caring” within the community, he said.

“Huntington High School is an amazing school,” Cusack said. “And I think you can see from a distance, [from] the outpouring of help to others, and things like that, and that’s something I want to build on.”

In a statement on the school’s website, Superintendent Jim Polansky lauded Cusack’s appointment.

“Over the past several years, Mr. Cusack has become an integral part of a successful high school team,” he said. “He has earned the respect of his students, staff and colleagues. He brings a wealth of administrative and teaching experience to the position. The achievement and well-being of his students have always been his foremost priorities.”

Cusack is a 1995 graduate of SUNY New Paltz with a bachelor’s in education, according to the statement.

Cusack earned a master’s at CUNY-Queens College in 2002 in adolescent education/English 7-12.

He obtained a professional diploma in school administration and supervision at CUNY-Queens College in 2005. He recently participated in school leadership training at Harvard College.

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